By Chad Simon
Classic Performance Products Establishes Competitor Relations to Better Serve Customers
Classic Performance Products has a 3,000-sq.-ft. showroom on-site, with all of its product on display so that clients can see them, how they’re intended to be used and how well all of the components work together.
Housed in an 80,000-sq.-ft. facility in Placentia, California, with 72 employees, Classic Performance Products (CPP) specializes in manufacturing and selling steering, brakes and suspension components for classic cars. The company’s niche market is mid- to late-’70s and earlier vehicles, with a heavy emphasis on GM, but it also ventures into the Ford and MOPAR arenas, according to CPP President Jim Ries.
The company originally offered only brakes but expanded into related steering and suspension systems to ensure that its products were cross compatible so that clients could start and finish a job with as few obstacles as possible. Also noteworthy, CPP establishes relationships with its competitors and impartially sells their products alongside its own because its focus is to help clients achieve their goals, regardless of which brands they choose to purchase.
SEMA News caught up with Ries to learn more about the business philosophy that has led to the company’s success.
SEMA News: How long have you been in business? How have you been able to grow over the years?
Jim Ries: My automotive passion started as a hobby, something I did when I was younger, and it later evolved into a business. It wasn’t part of a master plan. We established the business in 1991 and incorporated in 1997. In those first six years, I was working two jobs trying to launch this business and work full time.
We have been active doing technical installations and making ourselves available to different entities such as popular magazines to showcase our product and how it fits into the wide range of products out there. We get involved in sponsorships for project vehicles.
Initially, our business was based on selling to retailers. Through the evolution of our product line and adding products that complement one another, our dealers helped dictate that growth. They have good success with our products, and we make it easy for retailers and dealers to sell them successfully and know that they have our support whenever they need it.
One-third of our facility is dedicated to manufacturing, where we do full-on machining, fabricating, tube bending and welding. We sell about 25% of our products online and 25% through retail catalogs and our showroom. The remaining 50% is through our dealer network. We also have a 3,000-sq.-ft. showroom on-site with all of our product on display so that clients can see the product, how it’s intended to be used, and how well all the components work together. Our displays provide access to what’s going on under the car.
One-third of CPP’s facility is dedicated to manufacturing, where the company’s employees perform machining, fabricating, tube bending and welding operations.
CPP has continued to grow every year since our first year in business. Some of our best growth years were in 2008 and 2009, when the economy affected a lot of businesses. We grow on average between 6% and 10% every year, and the balance of that growth is distributed evenly through our dealer program, catalogs and e-commerce.
SN: Who are your customers and what draws them to your store?
JR: On the wholesale side, our customers include major niche companies such as Summit, JEGS, Classic Industries and Danchuk. Pretty much everyone in the industry carries our product line; some of them carry our entire line, while others carry only the parts that apply to their business models. On the retail side, it’s all the enthusiasts—the guys in Pro Touring and restoration. A portion of our product line appeals to practically everyone in the classic-car industry. We cross over into a lot of different areas.
We try to package our stuff into a single SKU, so we incorporate it into a value-added package where you can buy one kit and do your entire suspension, instead of having to order 40 part numbers. We’ve tried to make the process easy for our customers so that there’s less concern about cross compatibility from brand to brand and product to product. We preassemble as much of our product as we can, rather than putting all the components into a box individually and providing a 35-page instruction manual on how to put everything together.
The dedication of my staff and their buying into our vision and delivering top-quality customer service and parts at an affordable price is what makes us successful. It’s easy for them to do, because they believe in it.
SN: What are the biggest challenges and the most rewarding successes you’ve experienced?
JR: Coming here every day is my most rewarding success. We have a lot of long-term employees who have been here for 15 years, and that’s a real compliment to CPP, who we are and what a good place it is to work. The continuous dedication to R&D and developing quality products contributes to our tremendous growth.
To grow the business with control has been challenging. In recent years, we moved from a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility in Anaheim under three roofs to our 80,000-sq.-ft. facility in Placentia without impacting our operation.
SN: What are your top business practices?
JR: We come to work every day for our customers on both sides; we never rest on our laurels. We are very responsive to changes in our industry. When we have issues that come up, we jump in and try to resolve them. If someone bought a new product from a competitor and there’s a compatibility issue with one of our parts—even if we have to make a custom part or it leads to a design change—we are always open to investigate and deal with the problem in a way most companies don’t.
The dedication of Jim Ries’ staff and their investment in the company’s vision and delivering top-quality customer service and parts at an affordable price are what make CPP successful.
Also, we work well with our competitors. We make steering columns, but we also sell every other brand’s steering columns. We have our own brake systems that are proprietary to us, but we also sell Wilwood, Baer and Brembo. A component of our brake systems is used with a lot of the other brands—the spindle, for example—so we dedicate a lot of time and communicate with our competitors and understand that our brake system is not going to be on every car out there, but clients may choose to use our spindle. It’s in both of our best interests to develop a product that works with all of our competitors’ products as well as ours.
In our R&D facility and through our engineering, we reach across the aisle to work with our competitors, and we’ve established a lot of relationships and respect in doing so. It’s something we pride ourselves on. We do a fair job in selling our competitors’ products, so we try to identify what the customer is after, whether it’s a CPP product or a Wilwood product, and help them achieve what they’re trying to do with their car. We don’t try to force people into only our product line.
SN: What is your customer service philosophy and how do you meet it?
JR: We try to identify our customers, what their goals are, and do whatever we can to help them to get there. The customer is usually right. We’ll dedicate whatever time and resources are necessary to help them achieve what they’re trying to do with their projects.
Classic Performance Products
President: Jim Ries
Number of employees: 72
Our phones are tied up a lot of times, and the wait times can get a little long. Every call is important to us, but when we get the next customer on the phone, we’re not going to rush him off the line. We’re going to dedicate the same time and energy into every customer.
We have 12 salesmen here, and all of them have strong knowledge of the product, from the technical aspects right down to specific year, make and models and cross compatibility. They’re going to dedicate whatever time is needed to ensure that we help our customers make the best decisions for their projects.
Before I started this company, I worked for another company that sold everything from antennas to wiper blades and chrome bumper bolts as well as the big items, such as fenders, doors and hoods. They really had a customer for life. Once you started working with a customer, sometimes you wouldn’t hear from them for a couple years, but then they’d get re-energized and want to put new wheels on the car, and they come back because you sell everything for that vehicle.
With my company, we’re just involved in one aspect of it. It’s like hiring someone to do your bathroom instead of building you a whole house. We have people who are involved with us for a portion of their project. As they complete that part of their project and move on to paint, body, upholstery and all the other parts we’re not involved with, we tend to not hear from them again for a while. They almost always come back around when they’re finished to show us their vehicles. When they want to make some upgrades, they tend to get us involved. We feel that we are really involved in the portion of their build that we specialize in.
SN: How do you market the company?
JR: We do a lot of stuff online through forums, and most of our marketing is done through print media and some of the super sites out there. One of the biggest marketing tools we have every year is the SEMA Show itself. It’s one of our biggest events. We’ve gotten away from doing a lot of the local car shows. This will be our 14th year exhibiting at the SEMA Show. We have a pretty large booth now, and we put a lot of energy into it.
Our dealers are scattered all over the world, so the Show is the one place where we have an opportunity to sit down with everyone. We do a lot of advance prep to ensure that we have good meetings at the Show that follow up on everything that’s happened over the course of the year. It’s also an opportunity for us to grade ourselves. It’s one of the most rewarding periods for us, because we get to hear feedback from our dealers. It’s nice to hear so much positive response over a short period of time.
Social-media presence is an area we’re trying to grow. There’s always something going on around here in R&D and manufacturing that I’m sure would interest people. We’ve talked about putting together a small team to take care of this aspect on a daily basis. We recently finished a big project with TEN and Super Chevy magazine where we built a ’67 Chevelle in six days. It was a complete makeover called “Week to Wicked,” and just seeing the social-media response opened my eyes to how much more we need to be involved in that process. It’s one of our weakest links.
SN: What are your future plans for growth, and where do you see your business headed?
JR: We’re trying to manage our growth. We’re going to have six to eight new items that we plan to introduce at the SEMA Show, and we’re expanding into a couple of new areas. Right now, we’re trying to invest more in our infrastructure and shorten our lead times. I see continued growth. Our sales at the end of the first quarter are already ahead of last year. We haven’t been actively trying to grow the business; it’s done it on its own.
SN: What advice would you offer retailers to hone their businesses?
JR: Listen to your customers. Customer service is king. The more you can identify with what they’re trying to do and help guide them to get there is key. We’re always trying to provide point-of-purchase displays and whatever we can do to assist our dealers in better educating customers of the advantages to CPP and our products. We’re never of the philosophy that customers have to go with our product.
Customers who have fitment issues find companies that they like to deal with. However, these companies may offer them fewer options, which might send the customer in the wrong direction, since the company was limited in what it could offer because of who it partnered with, or it’s limited its product line to just one brake manufacturer, so the customer only has one brake option. We try not to do that.
Find out what your customers need, identify with what their vision is, and help them get there. You have to invest in product knowledge. Attend the SEMA Show. There’s so much information there. Attend the seminars. Educate yourself on all the great assets this industry offers, and then take advantage of them.